LOS ANGELES — A line stretches out the door and around a wall along the King Drew Magnet High School.
An hour before the main event on Sunday, there’s a buzz circulating inside Los Angeles’ famous Drew League gym as it quickly fills up to a standing-room-only crowd of 1,100. Everyone, including California congresswoman Maxine Waters, is on hand to watch a battle of two MVPs.
James Harden, the reigning NBA MVP, is making an appearance at the Drew League for his LAUNFD (pronounced “L.A. Unified”) team with fellow NBA players PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown with him.
They are here to take on the best that The Drew League has to offer at the moment — undefeated Birdie’s Revenge and its two-time reigning Drew League MVP Franklin “Frank Nitty” Session along with NBA player Mike James. Adding to the big-game hype was the fact that Birdie’s Revenge entered this final regular-season game of the Drew League with a league-record-tying 26-game winning streak dating back to last season.
When Harden shows up and is on the floor going through warm-ups, fans everywhere pull out their cell phones to record the NBA’s MVP. On the other side of the court, Frank Nitty is hopping with energy as he watches the pro-stacked LAUNFD warm up at one point.
“I love this!” said Session, who dropped 44 points the Sunday before, most at the expense of Chicago Bulls guard Denzel Valentine. Session dropped 40 points the day before that on a team that featured Atlanta Hawks forward Taurean Prince. Session spent last year in the National Basketball League of Canada, earning that league’s Newcomer of the Year award.
Once the game starts, it doesn’t take very long for the two MVPs to find one another. In fact, Harden and Session end up guarding each other the majority of the game.
Unfortunately, the MVP showdown doesn’t come close to matching the hype. Harden scores 26 points and shoots 6-for-13 from the field, while Session goes for 23 points on 6-for-17 shooting, according to the Drew League official box score. However, it looked and felt like the two missed a lot more than that in what was a sloppy and heavily officiated game.
There were some fireworks on the court, but not nearly the show the crowd had hoped to see. Session drew oohs and ahhs as he got Tucker to slip on one move early in the game. The crowd would later let out a collective gasp after Harden hurt himself by landing on Session’s foot following a made 3, leaving Harden on the floor holding his right ankle and writhing in pain. The Rockets star would end up shaking off the injury and staying on the court. Neither Session nor Harden made a field goal inside the arc in the first half.
Things later got heated when Tucker, playing in his first Drew League game, got into it with Birdie’s Revenge center Marcus Bell. The two are separated by several bodies, but Bell later head-butted LAUNFD center Chance Comanche, who suited up for the Orlando Magic summer league team in Las Vegas. Bell and Comanche were ejected due to the altercation.
Tucker, who was all business from start to finish and admits he had the same game face on as he did in the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, engaged in some trash-talking early in the game.
“It is always fun, guys trying to go at you,” said the muscular Rockets forward. “I love that. They are supposed to [come at me].
“I remember being like those guys playing against pros and always going at them, so that is what makes it a little more fun, because I remember being them,” Tucker added.
PJ Tucker with a pretty nice sneaker rotation today. Warmed up in the F&F Quai 54 Jordan 3, played the first half in the Jordan 13 “Oregon”, and finished the game in the Kobe 6 “Barcelona”.#KicksAtTheDrew pic.twitter.com/HNyxMyK8FD
— Jacques Slade (@kustoo) July 30, 2018
Birdie’s Revenge had its moments, such as when the rapper The Game came away with a steal at half court after double-teaming Harden before attempting a pass off the backboard to a trailing Session. The alley-oop didn’t materialize, but The Game still smiled and playfully slapped Harden’s knees after the play.
Harden, Harrell and Brown, though, delivered too many blows for Birdie’s Revenge to absorb in the second half despite 32 points from Mike James. Harden hit a couple of corner 3’s with Session all over him, and Harrell threw down some monster dunks to snap Birdie’s record-tying streak with a 91-81 win. Harden, who won a Drew League championship in 2015 with LAUNFD, expects to be available for the postseason, which starts the next weekend.
Despite not having his best showing and often running into a wall of defenders whenever he drove, Session won’t forget this experience for a long time.
“You got PJ Tucker, he guards the best guys in the league,” Session said. “You got James, Montrezl. That is an NBA starting five almost. Bobby Brown played in the league. We got friends over here [playing on Birdie’s Revenge]. We don’t got no pros, [just] me and Mike James. But we have a couple of grit-and-grind guys.
“We needed it,” added Session, who has now played twice against Harden. “It is good intense basketball. I can’t put that experience into words.”
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